Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ouch! The Lives and Loves of Castrado Singers

The BBC reports in this story that "the world's most famous castrado...is to be exhumed"---the singer is Farinelli. What makes him so famous? Well, the fact that he's the only castrado that we have any recordings of. Actually, we only have one recording of a short song. (Want to here it? Listen here.)

Castrados were famous between the 16th century until 1870 (when the practice was banned) because male vocal chords are thicker than their female variant. On average being physically larger, men also tended to have larger lungs. When a young boy is castrated (ouch!), he grows into a man who can sing like a soprano with (allegedly) greaterlung capacity and a richer sound (because of thicker vocal chords).

These men were also well known lovers. Who'd want to sleep around with a castrated man? Well, lots of people once upon a time. Recall that in the 16th and 17th centuries there was no contraceptive pill, condoms, etc. Sex between a traditional couple would generally carry the risk of pregnancy (and getting found out). Yet, castrados were the closest thing to "no strings attached" as one might find a few centuries ago. If you listen to castrados, it's definitely not the voice that is wooing the fans...

Was it all worth it? I very much doubt it. The evidence is rubbish---we have only one recording of what (to me) sounds like a terrible song. Was that worth castration and years of practice? No. Thousands of boys would have this operation in the hope of becoming a famous castrado. Thank goodness this madness has come to an end.....

3 comments:

meditations71 said...

Ouch! Sounds a bit 'tortured', wouldn't you say. I much prefer my early 20th Century recordings of the most definitely anatomically intact Caruso...

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